The first time I read it was as part of my critique group, Matt being a member of our group. Matt originally wrote the novel as YA, Solvieg being almost seventeen. It was through the encouragement of his editor, and not without some reluctance on his part, that Matt made the change. It had been purely a marketing decision by Scholastic, not because his YA version lacked that unique Kirby flare that pulls in an audience and keeps them reading. They felt that keeping his second book as a middle grade (his first book, Clockwork Three was middle grade), would be beneficial to help Matt establish his brand. I thought Matt did a brilliant job of maintaining the intrigue of Solveig’s near-claustrophobic situation while changing the voice to a girl several years younger.
The setting I found unique, a refreshing change from all the paranormal stuff out there: a lonely outpost at the end of a fjord just as it freezes over for the winter. Solveig is the middle daughter of a Viking king, sent there with older sister and younger brother, to be protected from the war with a neighboring land. Her brother is the heir to the throne. Her sister is beautiful—a potential means to unit two kingdoms through marriage. But Solvieg has nothing to offer—or so she thinks. I love the seeing the growth that Solveig undergoes as she learns to find her strength through the telling of stories, becoming a skald (a viking storyteller.) As she hones her skills and pushes her courage to the limit, she transforms into a character you can’t help but love. Especially when, at the end of the story, you see how she becomes more valuable and stronger than her sister and brother put together.
Icefall is an excellent read for all ages. I highly recommend it. It doesn’t surprise me in the least that it has been nominated for the Hugo Award.